Control mechanisms can come in all types within relationships. We often have the image of a man holding a raised fist against a woman as the stereotype. But a controlling relationship isn’t gender-specific or confined to acts of physical violence. It can occur on a sliding scale – even when the intent of starting a relationship was one of genuine attraction and goodwill. Those too can devolve into a dynamic of control.
In the modern world we live in, some of the most damaging relationships are actually those where the abuse is silent, and there’s a constant lingering threat of what might happen if… Mental and emotional abuse can be such a part of relationships; they may be present on a subconscious and subliminal level both to the person who is acting out these behaviours as well as the receiver. Here are some of the most common:
1. You’re Being Isolated from Your Family and Friends
Quite simply, the more your partner can isolate you from your friends and family, the more they’ll be able to exert their influence over you. In the earlier stages of a relationship, it may start off innocently enough. They may suggest, ‘oh, I thought it’d just be the two of us tonight.’ And why would you turn this offer down? But over time, the need to spend time alone can turn into an expectation that if you don’t comply with can lead some of the other tendencies listed below. Their intention is to strip you of your support network.
2. You’ll Receive Constant and Unwarranted Criticism
There is a difference between disagreement and criticism. The latter is neutral while the former is outwardly directed at another person. And in fact, the criticism may not even be criticism at first – it may be simple disagreements. But other time, these can escalate into ‘constructive remarks’ or constructive criticism only intended to make you a better person because they have your best interests at heart. But the reality is that the longer it continues, the more it forms the dynamic of the relationship, which can lead to a sense of uneasiness about doing anything at all. There is a sense of avoidance.
3. You Receive Veiled Threats and Emotional Blackmail
In the traditional sense, we think about threats, they’re often seen them as being physical in nature. But they don’t always have to be. Threats can just as easily be contained within the subtext of a situation, gesture or verbal exchange. For example, if you do not do [X] or me, then I will not do [Y] for you. This is a common occurrence in one-income households where women may be financially dependent on their partner. Their ‘allowance’ may be cut off if they don’t agree to certain terms within their relationship.
4. They Use Shame, Blame and Guilt to Manipulate You
One of the most common weapons a skilled manipulator will use against you is guilt. They’ll plant seeds of doubt in your mind designed to turn you against yourself with thoughts that you’ve let them down in some way. Over time, you’d gradually do less and less to avoid feeling the pangs of shame for not measuring up to expectations. So much so, that they’ll be a complete avoidance of confrontation and/or conflict playing into the control narrative of your partner.
5. You’re Expected to Have No Boundaries (They Spy on You)
Again, this tactic will often be very subversive when it first starts happening. Your partner may set up an agreement with you that neither of you will hide anything from one another and that “you have no secrets.” There is nothing wrong with this of itself when it’s a mutual agreement that you both stand behind. The problem arises when it’s used as a gateway that allows probing into all of your daily activities under the guise of only “caring about your safety.” It’s surveillance disguised as love.
6. It Feels Like there is a One-Way Channel of Communication
If you’ve ever experienced this, it will feel like there’s no give in any discussion. Whenever you enter into a conversation, it will be a one-sided affair in which you are the receiver of their ideas. But never a contributor to the narrative as a whole. Whenever you do manage to get your thoughts out into the open, they’re quickly shot down, dismissed or simply ignored. They’ll rarely, if ever ask questions about you or how you are, and instead only inquiry about subjects that will further their own agenda.
7. Their Acts of Kindness Are Really Designed to Create Servitude
In the beginning, you may go through a honeymoon period of romance in which you were given everything you ever wanted. However, this can often come at price, as these acts of kindness will be used as currency, later on, to make you subservient to their requests. As the relationship progresses, it will be insinuated that you ‘owe them’ for these acts of generosity in the past. And by not holding up your part of the bargain by meeting their basic requests, you’ll be disrespecting your relationship.
8. You’ll Be Made to Feel Unworthy of Pursuing Your Passions
This is something that will only become apparent the further you get into a relationship. As if it were to happen in the beginning, it would raise all kinds of red flags. If you’ve ever tried to better yourself and you’re met with stiff resistance, it’s a huge sign of control. Your partner should want you to better yourself. But they simply will not allow because they think it will take you further away from them and out of their control.